J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Angelica: Tragically, Supernaturally Victorian

Constance Barton might just be the world’s first germaphobe. It was her husband who introduced her to germ theory and also to sex, both of which she will feel compelled to avoid. That naturally strains the Bartons’ marital union, as does her hyper-over-protectiveness of their daughter. Perhaps she is also haunted, but it might just be Dr. Barton’s sexual id lashing out for vengeance (no joke) in Mitchell Lictenstein’s hothouse gothic yarn, Angelica (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Constance Barton has summoned her daughter to make a deathbed confession while he still has the time. It involves the disappearance of her father, who maybe did not up and abscond, as she had been led to believe. Why, Barton can remember it all, like it was just yesterday—cue the dissolve.

Young Constance, who looks exactly like her grown daughter, is a shopgirl and Dr. Joseph Barton (formerly Bartoli) is a well-heeled naturalized Italian immigrant, but neither of them can ever be fully accepted in Victorian society. At least, they have each other—initially. It is a passionate nine-month honeymoon, but a touch-and-go delivery leads to a bizarre doctor’s prescription: no more marital relations.

Obviously, that makes things awkward. Being a lusty Italian, Dr. Barton is always trying to cheat with his own wife (he is not the unfaithful type, but ironically, that might have avoided some problems), whereas Ms. Barton funnels all her energy into protecting/smothering the daughter who almost did not make it. She is already somewhat paranoid and overwrought, even before the so-called “Flying Man” starts stalking Angelica. Essentially, he is a hive-creature made up of thousands of giant-sized bacteria creepy-crawlies. His ill sexual intentions are clear from his enlarged appendage. He doesn’t have a face per se, but he still seems hazily reminiscent of the good doctor.

Lictenstein, son of the famous pop artist, is a one-man justification for Freudian analysis. His first film Teeth told the tale of an Evangelical teen with teeth in her very private parts, whereas his straight drama, Happy Tears, features the resentful son of a famous painter, whose daddy issues result in a nervous breakdown. Here, blue balls lead to a giant, predatory germ monster. Your patient, Dr. Freud.

Obviously, this is all rather silly, to put it mildly, but you to give Jena Malone and Ed Stoppard credit for constantly doubling and tripling down as the Bartons. By the time they reach the third act, they look like they haven’t had a good night’s sleep or released their pent-up nervous tensions in years. They both play it scrupulously straight, never remotely winking at the audience or smirking at the irony. The late Charles Keating also adds some terrific Peter Cushing-esque genre presence as old Dr. Miles, dispatched from the looney bin to diagnose Madame Barton in her home environment.

Angelica is a weird film, because it takes itself strictly and completely seriously, but the stuff it shows viewers is just totally off-the-rails nuts. There is a wide and profound disconnect between the tony tone and the looney narrative. The classy period production values just make it all the more conspicuous. A great deal of craftsmanship went into Angelica, but the end-product is the goofiest Hammer Horror film ever. Admittedly, that is sort of a recommendation. Indeed, Lictenstein’s film will probably have a long life with camp connoisseurs, so trust your instincts when Angelica opens today (11/17) in New York, at the Village East.

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